In my research, I am interested in biological agents of evolutionary change and community genetics. In other words, can the biological community associated with a given plant genotype act as an extended phenotype on which selection can act? Specifically I am interested in the interaction between plants and their mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi can help the plant in terms of resource acquisition and pathogen protection, while the plant provides carbon for it’s associated fungi. A given individual plant will associate with a number of different fungal species at one time, so I am interested in whether this fungal community could be treated as an extended phenotype. I am currently evaluating the overall patterns that govern the variation in plant-associated fungal communities in the field, and I am in the beginning stages of determining whether plant genotype determines a fungal community “phenotype” under common garden conditions. In addition, I am also interested in how fungal communities change through plant life stages, and how this may affect long-term evolution of plant populations.
Area of Research:
Evolutionary Biology; Ecology
I am interested in the ecological and evolutionary questions concerning plant reproduction. I am particularly curious about the processes that generate and maintain genetic variation in characters that appear to have obvious effects on reproductive success of plants in natural population. In the past I have combined observation from natural populations, manipulative experiments in the greenhouse and in common gardens, quantitative genetics and molecular evolution approaches in my studies. Though I consider myself an empirical biologist, I am very fond of theoretical studies, and have occasionally done some theoretical investigation for factors difficult to study empirically.
Past research topics include: (1) evolution of selfing in Ipomoea purpurea, (2) molecular evolution of a regulatory gene that influences flower pigmentation in Ipomoea purpurea and (3) characteristics of the spontaneous mutation in Arabidopsis thaliana.
Recently, my research has been focusing on questions relating to the evolution of plant mating systems. There are two main lines of research that are currently ongoing in my lab: (I) Gender specific selection in hermaphroditic plants, and (II) Evolution of separate sexes in plants.